Europe Week Three: Cinque Terre
The second part of our weekend in Florence began bright and early Saturday morning on a big coach bus full of middle-aged American couples. Lavi and Raissa, our tour guides, introduced themselves and told us about the day's itinerary. Cinque Terre was the destination. Five picturesque seaside villages at the foot of terraced hills that face the Mediterranean Sea with the most colorful terraces and winding roads, the towns of Cinque Terre are a real-life Pinterest dream. We were headed to all five towns and the excitement was real :D
We drove through the countryside (past the town of Lucca) and the tour guides educated us on the history of Tuscany. Italy's rich history amuses me everyday, and hearing about how the Roman Empire, barbarians, Napoleon, and Mussolini made such big impacts on cities, cultures, and lifestyles is so fascinating.
As we approached La Spezia, an Italian military port and the nearest city to Cinque Terre, the tour guides told us about the English Romantic poets - Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats - who lived here in the Italian Riviera back in the day. They fell in love with the area, and constantly wrote about it in their literary works. It's actually where Shelley died when his boat sunk in a severe storm, but the spirit of him and his poet friends lives on to this day.
The bus dropped us off in Manarola, where we briefly walked up the hiking terrace and through the tiny town to the train station. We crowded onto the train and got off at Corniglia, where we climbed a long brick flight of steps (33 flights worth) and reached our lunch destination, where we enjoyed local seafood and pasta made with Cinque Terre's famous pesto.
After lunch we began the hardest part of the day, or so everyone thought. Kristin and I, having been trained by our professor to endure long marches around Rome for class, strolled and skipped along the 2.2-mile long trail to reach the next town, Vernazza. Oh, Vernazza. My heart is still drowning in its beauty.
We sat in Vernazza's main square eating heavenly gelato, surrounded by a small bay of boats and swimmers and a break wall of boulders, which I couldn't wait to climb. It was then the mishap of the day occurred when I underestimated the wind and its ability to blow my hat right off my head into the ocean. I watched it float away into the waves as I mourned a little and told myself it's gone to a better place, whether that be the vast blue sea or the hands of an old fisherman. Oh hat, living a life I've always dreamed of. Be free...
I could've sat in that square for hours, among the backdrop of the colorful town watching the daring youngsters jump into the bay, the boats float by, and the sun fall over the horizon. But a glance at the time snapped me back to reality. We hurried back to our tour group to catch the train to Monterosso.
White wine, endless cafes and shops, sunbathers, and a huge sand beach with the bluest water I've ever seen...it was a vacation paradise. We each ordered a glass (okay more like a plastic cup) of Cinque Terre's famous white wine and found a tiny unoccupied spot on the beach to enjoy the beautiful afternoon. Groups of friends played volleyball along the water while others preferred to float in the sea or lay in the sand taking in the sun. Although it was towards the end of summer, tourists swarmed every inch of the town, all with the same intention of enjoying life in the Italian Coast.
Cinque Terre is one of the most beautiful corners of the world. Its small town village life and humble beauty attracts hordes of tourists. There was no way one day was enough time to see and enjoy everything. Although it was nice following a tour guide around in a foreign place, I much rather would've preferred exploring the towns on my own, stopping at each destination for as long as I wanted and slowly taking in every inch of beauty (and taste every bit of seafood and pesto specialties) without worrying about getting lost from the group or missing an important train ride.
What surprised me most was the small town lifestyle of the residents. So used to Californian beach towns, I expected Cinque Terre to be commercialized for tourism. But seeing laundry hang off people's balconies and elderly fishermen smiling, I knew there was still an old community who lived here, unfazed by the swarms of foreign visitors. Hiking through the trails reminded me so much of Big Sur and the Pacific Coast Highway. The coastal views, the steep hills, and even the agave. Thanks for the the most beautiful day trip ever, Cinque Terre. I'll be back before you know it :)